Politische S'trukturen im Guptareich (300-550 n.Chr.). By FRED VIRKUS. Asien- und Afrika-Studien der Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin, vol. 18. Wiesbaden: HARRASSOWITZ VERLAG, 2004. Pp. x + 319. [euro]78.
The Archaeology of Hindu Ritual: Temples and the Establishment of the Gods. By MICHAEL WILLIS. Pp. xiv + 375. Cambridge: CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2009. [pounds sterling]50.
The last decade has seen the publication of a number of important studies on the Gupta period of Indian history. A beautiful exhibition was held in Paris in 2007 and led to the publication of a catalog of masterpieces of Gupta art. (1)On the occasion of this exhibition, Gerard Fussman dedicated his lectures at the College de France to the topic of Gupta history, and the summary of his lectures was published as a valuable essay. (2) Just a few years earlier Fred Virkus (3) had published the first work under review here, Politische Strukturen im Guptareich. It was, regrettably, ignored in Fussman's essay, and is likewise almost entirely ignored in the second work under review here, Michael Willis' Archaeology of Hindu Ritual. With the Guimet catalog, the Fussman essay, and these two monographs, both Gupta studies per se and ancient Indian (art) history more generally have entered a new era. (4)
Virkus' and Willis' monographs could hardly be more different. The first is a sober historical study, founded on a rigorous hierarchy of sources, among which the inscriptions take first rank, being comprehensively studied to the extent they throw light on political structures under the Gupta empire. A brief introduction presents a summary of debate on "empire" and "the state" as analytic categories. The bulk of the monograph comprises a region-by-region study of the sources. Chapters on political ideology and a conclusion round out the work. An English summary makes its contents accessible for those who cannot read the German. The work is an excellent introduction to the epigraphical data on politics, government, and administration, but does not provide an ideal entry point into the study of Gupta history, about which a substantial level of basic knowledge is presumed. One or more maps and a chronological-geographical-genealogical overview of Gupta rulers as well as their vassals would have been helpful. The work is full of references to specific years and the events dated to them, but there is no general discussion of the dating of inscriptions and the eras that were in use. (5) The index only covers Sanskrit words, text titles, personal names, and toponyms; important German concepts (e.g., Gilde, Korporation, Kupfertafelinschrift, Siegel) are not indexed. The main conclusion we retain from reading this work is the extreme geographical and typological fragmentedness of the evidence on Gupta polity, and of Gupta polity itself, which greatly complicates the formulation of any generalization valid for the "empire" as a whole. As the author himself expresses it: "even in the more highly developed parts of the Gupta empire there was no political or administrative uniformity" (p. 253). (6)
The second book, Willis' The Archaeology of Hindu Ritual, consists of an introduction and three parts. The first, which is a nearly exact republication of an article already published in 2004, (7) is dedicated to the archaeology and politics of time at Udayagiri, aiming to show that the part of this site that is richest in archaeological remains -functioned as a center of imperial ritual under the early Gupta kings" (p. 10)...